Monday, December 19, 2005

"Albert, just....amaze me."

I titled this latest entry to my messages to the world the statement my employer made to me today when I requested clarification concerning the information on the plan and the description of what he said he wanted me to do that day [or as I like to prefix my requests to him “What kind of a fool’s errand am I going to waste another day of my life with this time…”]. I was to perform another miracle, apply the available technology towards an end it was never designed to perform, manifest in the real world the image (incomplete and theoretical at best) that my employer imagined and assured the customer that we could accomplish easily, end up with a result that looked effortless and like God himself put it there…in short another day at work.

This is usually how my various employment/ job develops. I’m a pretty good cabinetmaker, I’m not as exact as I should be (but I can be), my talent lies in retention of everything that I’ve ever tried, how the technology available actually works and how I can get it to do what I want it to do. Not to mention as far as employment is concerned I’ve been passed around like a $10 whore. When one has worked for as many different shops as me one absorbs a lot. One learns to crack the nut many different ways. Not to mention my degree in art trained me to think outside the box. I think that’s what gives me whatever edge I have.

It usually upsets me when people give me that ‘how did you do that?’ look. Especially when they stood there and watched how I did it. I get called a genius and that upsets me even more. Yeah I know…it sounds like I’m saying ‘poor me, people are impressed by me and what I do and I just can’t stand it.’ And if I’m so good why the hell am I not running my own shop. Truth is I don’t deal well with the customer…I don’t handle change orders well, I don’t schmooze well, I don’t play politics well, I’m outspoken (rude) and I make people feel stupid. I prefer to just be told what it is I need to do and then left alone to do it. And as for my abilities -I’ve made a lot of mistakes, a whole lot of them. My dad used to say “don’t be afraid to make mistakes just don’t make them twice.” When one screws up like that, it is up to the screwer upper to make it right and that is how one learns the trade. And some of mine have been beauts.

People like me usually have a bumpy childhood. I recall seeing an American Master’s about Buckminster Fuller. I not only could relate to him I almost cried. When he was about 7 he was asked to make a structure using dried peas and toothpicks. Everyone else in his class made a cube…because that’s what they lived in; Fuller made a Tetrahedron, a three sided pyramid. The teacher gave him a failing grade because his wasn’t like everybody else’s. The Tetrahedron is considered one of the 4 pure geometric forms, because of its simplicity and stability. Fuller went on to give birth to the modern car industry, manufactured housing and the geodesic dome. I’ve heard brief snips from his lectures…the guy went beyond brilliant. He had his hand on the pulse of the future…and until he invented the geodesic dome he was considered an eccentric nut.

SO how in the Hell does this all fit into what I’ve been on and on about mostly in these blogs of mine?

Humanity was pulled out of the caves by people like me, people like me invented art (writing), the wheel, the plow, the cart, medicine, philosophy, technology, science, mathematics’, and most of the stuff that we as a modern society takes for granted. However…at the time these people were ridiculed and if allowed to live- forced to live outside of society. And after 12,000 years we still treat the original people like this. Brunelleschi was thought to be some kind of a screwball, and when he suggested he knew how to make the dome for the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral, a job nobody would touch-they asked him to explain how he would do it; he knew they'd ridicule his thoughts and somebody else would use his ideas. SO he concocted a plan...he suggested that the person who could stand an egg on its end should get the commission. All tried all failed. Our hero took an egg and slammed the round end with the air pocket down and it stood erect. "Any child could've done that!" they said. Yes he said, and any child could build the dome if I told him how. He got the job and the rest is history.

There’s nothing really unique about me. I just choose not to accept what people say as gospel and am willing to try something new, make mistakes, learn from them and take the responsibility for them. This world would be a much better place if we could just learn to accept change and not treat a new concept as the end of society as we know it.

I attribute my ability to think and design my way out of a corner by being a card carrying apostle of the greatest logical inventor that the world remembers. I’m a student of Leanardo Da Vinci, a man who recognized the potential of an event and how to apply the information towards another end.

“Albert, just…amaze me.” I’m sure Da Vinci got that a lot. People like me end up working for guys who either want to impress the hell out of people or work for other people who want to impress the hell out of people.

So they hire extremely acerbic prima dona types who do nothing but bitch about how unappreciated they are, how they are forced to perform under the most backward and ridiculous conditions, how they are surrounded by feebs and fools, how underpaid they are, how they’re just waiting to be asked to change urine into beer, raise the dead and send a port-a-john into earths orbit using 3,000 rubber bands and a pile of shipping palettes. I should know-the description I just wrote, Hell it should be written on whatever marker they put on my grave, and begun with “HE WAS…”. What can I say? I whine about what I’m asked to do, only cause I don’t want to hafto think about how I’m spending my life and how I’m forced to apply the precious Gift I was given-the ability to adapt and the ability to recognize a pattern-no matter how obscure. I guess I chose to be of use to society rather then be an artistic commentator of society. People need boxes to maintain there collection of stuff. Ya know...If somebody had TOLD me that this is what 'ruling in Hell' was going to be like I might have re thought the whole thing...too late now.

I’m only happy when I’m doing artwork. Or more specifically I’m only at peace when I’m lost in the process of creating what has been inside my head. I’m going to work on a tempera painting while I’m in recovery. I’ve been looking forward to this for months. This is the carrot that will get me past the concept of them cutting and grinding on me.

My Artwork is all I am. Pitiful really, but I am what I am.

Will I be remembered? Who knows? But it isn’t why I do it. I do it to keep my sanity.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Red Suit

Or don me now my red apparel
Hello dear reader,
I thought I would enrich your lives again with a chapter from my past.

As Xmas approach’s, as it does every year, I recall the Christmas that I got talked into playing Santa.

The experience changed my view of this major Holiday and it is something I have never been able to get around.

First of all you need to know that Christmas in Phoenix is strange. Santa wears a sombrero and sports shades, Rudolph rides a skate board and drinks Sun Tea, and people hang wreaths and lights on Saguaro Cacti and take pictures with it. Most snow is aerosol and they burn candles in little bags in front of the house calling them “luminaries”. It’s one of the strangest clashes of cultures you ever witnessed.

I was working at a convalescent home in South Phoenix, I was 19 years old and it would be the last Christmas I would spend in my family’s home, as a member of my family’s home and not a visitor, the following Christmas found me on the other side of the Pacific, on the other side of the equator but just barely.

The Convalescent home was run by a family, a husband and wife worked the administration, the wife’s sister was the dietician, and ran the kitchen (and was my boss) their daughter ran the activities and other daughters were in key positions. The place employed 3 nurses, one per shift, about 9 nurse’s aids, two women in the laundry and about 6 women in the kitchen. IE I and the guy who ran the place were the only men on staff. We all got along pretty well…The women depended on me to handle the “man” things and I complied. Christmas came along and I was approached to play Santa for the patients Christmas party, my answer was NO. I was approached again and told if I didn’t do it, it would fall upon Katrina the woman who ran the Laundry. I said I would think about it. I mentioned this to my mother and she lit right up. “We’re going to have Mr. & Mrs.##### (who had 2 little girls and were going to spend Christmas with us, he worked with my dad, they were new in Phoenix and my mother thought they would enjoy spending Christmas with a family) and I know they would love it if Santa could show up on Xmas Eve-tell them you’ll do it if you can borrow the Santa outfit on Christmas Eve.” I rarely denied my mother anything. Doing so would begin a process of complaining that would end in the appearance of the scar that came up past her navel that was put there so I could be brought into the world. So….I said yes. My mother passed this information to her friend Mary Ann who had a little boy about 4, and to the family that lived next door who had a son a year older then myself 3 more younger and a daughter about 3. ‘… OF COURSE he would be delighted to show up and play Santa for you.’ My boss’s agreed to allow me to use the suit if I agreed to show up and play Santa at their annual Family Christmas Eve gathering for the sake of a 7 year old son that was my boss’s youngest. When the women I worked with, 3 Latina’s and 4 Black women, all of whom I adored, heard that I was going to do the Santa thing on Xmas Eve for the people we worked for they approached me to do it for them too. If I’d do it for the people I worked FOR the very least I could do was to do it for the women I worked WITH. When I explained to them just what I had been promised to do and that me showing up at their homes was a lot to ask…I was told I would only hafto show up at two houses…One Latina woman would host the Latin party and only one of the black women had children of the proper age to appreciate Santa’s visit and she was going to spend it with her extended family who had about 4 kids there that would love any Santa…even a white one (her words). I refused…at first. One should never underestimate how persuasive 6 women can be when their children’s happiness is at stake and they’ve decided that I was brown nosing the boss but was too good to share the joy with them and theirs; they made my life miserable for 2 days. Finally I resigned myself to my fate. Everybody was happy but me. I did the patient Party…it was sorta sad really. Half the people were the age of my Grandparents and the other half were….how to say, mentally incapable of realizing just what the hell was going on. However...It happened, I got the suit and took it home. I got the collection of directions to the 3 homes I was to visit that I hadn’t been to before and plotted my route to include the stops I had to make that I was familiar with. I was going to put about 6o miles on my car…a 1962 Falcon Coupe that my father had bought for my little sister, and I had inherited. I was going to visit about every extreme neighborhood in the Valley. The first stop was the home of the married couple that owned the Convalescent home that I worked at. It was about a 5 bedroom 6 bath home with the full light display and an illuminated Santa and sleigh with reindeer on the immaculate lawn and a huge family room that their gala event was being held that opened up to a back yard with a pool, a huge bar-b-q fireplace across from an outside bar . To all there but the one child this was a joke. I was made to feel like an outsider that was there perform a service-to indulge the fantasy of a child…an employee doing a job and when done ushered out the door with barely a thank you. The next stop was the Latino Affair on the other side of town. This affair was pure Bedlam. All the men were drunk. The women were keeping the kids from getting in the way of the men being drunk and the kids were running amok. Utter Chaos doesn’t even begin to define what awaited me behind the door of this small 2 bedroom block house with a single string of lights adorning the doorway and the dirt that served as a lawn. The men and children all wanted to sit on “Santa’s” lap and everybody wanted something to play with…the men’s Christmas wishes included Playboy playmates and co-ed’s in a variety of compromising conditions, the kids just wanted lots of toys. I got out of there smelling of liquor and cigarettes, there were children screaming around me and I was given hugs from the women that I worked with wishing me and mine ”Feliz Navidad!” The relative silence of the street was a welcome guest to the inside of my head. Then I was off to another neighbor hood on that side of town. This neighbor hood was similar but different in a couple of ways. The houses were just as small but they had a more subdued appearance. There were no luminary’s of paper bags with candles in them but a few more electric lights. The cars that were parked in the street, on the lawn, in the driveways were a few years younger then the previous neighborhood and in a bit better condition, not as low to the ground, less tricked out with chrome and carpet in the interiors. I was greeted by people who were cautious that there was a white man in a Santa suit at their door but once I was recognized as supposed to be there welcomed and made to feel at home. I was given a chair offered something to drink and the children were happy, well behaved and immaculately dressed. They were just as excited that Santa was there but less hysterical about it then the party I’d just come from. It was one step up on the culture ladder. Not that this was a bad thing it was just noticeably less frantic. After the Children were finished talking to Santa the eldest person, I guess a great-grandmother type in a wheelchair motioned me over. I knelt and asked what Santa could do for the prettiest woman in the room? She smiled and whispered in my ear “thank you Santa for making my great grand babies happy on what might be my last Christmas amongst them. God bless you and yours.” The obvious head of the household, a man of about 50 escorted me to the door and shook my hand wanting to know if I needed directions or anything. I shook my head I pretty much knew where I was and where I needed to go next. The fastest route to where I needed to be was on the freeway. I got on and was minding my own business when a car came up next to me with three kids pressed so tight up against the glass I was afraid they might push the glass out. I waved. The man driving began to press on his horn. I waved again. He got in front of me and put on his right blinker, and I saw him motion with his hand he wanted me to pull over. I accommodated him, and he got out of the car and came back to mine as I rolled down the window. He didn’t look at me as he said “you got a minute?” I said yeah what’s up? Without waiting for my answer he opened up his trunk and pulled out a folding lawn chair and set it up in the light of my headlights. He then went over and opened up the back passenger side door. The three little ones fell out and lined up next to the chair. I got out and approached and the driver motioned for me to sit down. I did and one by one the kids sat in my lap and told me that they’d been good and what they wanted from Santa that night, as vehicles whizzed by us at about 70 mph. When the last one got off my lap the man addressed the three of them saying “Ok everybody has talked to Santa. Does anybody need to go to the Bathroom?” They said in unison “No Daddy.” I got up. He proceeded to close the door after the last one got back into the back of the car, folded up the chair threw it into the trunk, closed it and then got back into his car and drove away. No thanks, no nothing. It stands on my list of the weirdest things that’s ever happened to me at a constant #3, I felt like I’d been used like a Kleenex. I got back in my Falcon Coupe and pulled back on the highway making my way back to my side of town to take care of the rest of my obligations. The first stop was a family friend’s house, Maryann who had a little boy of about 3-4. I was quite taken with the little boy as well as his Sister’s who were the same age as me so I was a regular visitor to their house. Upon sight of Santa the boy was scared to death. After much coaxing I broke with the tradition and took off the beard to show him it was just me whom Santa had sent to check to make sure he’d gotten the list right and that the real Santa would be along shortly. I had been doing this gig for about 2 ½ hours and the beard itched and I needed a drink. The next stop was my house…The little girls belonging to the family that was visiting us were excited, my mom smiled with the satisfaction that she had promised Santa would come and come he had. I wanted to call it a night but the family next door was still waiting for Santa’s promised visit. I wanted a little lag time between Santa’s departure and my arrival home. I went next door found the bag of gifts for the little girl. The brothers who were all a few years younger then I and were wise to what was going on took the opportunity to take jabs at me in the costume. “Oh Santa aren’t you fatter then you were last year?” said the one closest to my own age, the brother who was one year older then myself was on his Mormon Mission. The two younger brothers joined in mocking me in front of their sister. I finally had had enough and pulled the eldest one’s ear to my mouth and whispered “just remember you little bastard, I’ll be out of this costume when next we meet and will pound you and your two whelp brothers into a paste.” It seemed to have the desired effect because he silenced the other two and the rest of Santa’s visit went off without a hitch. I dragged my red ass back home and let myself into the door that led to my bedroom. I pulled the stuff off and went into my folk’s bathroom to take a shower. I reflected on my evening as the hot shower washed away the sweat and smell of opulence, poverty, cigarettes, booze, and the feeling of being exploited, used and mocked I’d had to put up with that night. I dressed in my own clothes, let myself out of my door and made my way to the back door that we all used to enter the house. I vowed that it would be a special occasion that would get me back in the red suit, as I poured myself a shot of bourbon from the only bottle of liquor we kept in the house. I realized that everyone’s attitude towards Xmas was different and the more you had the more out of touch you were to what it was all about and more indifferent you were to it’s representative, That few actually had any respect for it…just mothers who want the magic for their family, but the only ones who get the magic are the very young and the very old. It’s been hinted that I don the red suit again…and although I might consider it, the occasion never manifested itself.
When you’re out doing the Xmas things just remember what the holiday is supposed to be about; Peace on Earth, Good will towards all men. And the guy in the Santa Suit if he’s being paid anything it isn’t enough to be filling such large boots. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.